A talk in Washington

24
Irawan Ronodipuro
INDEPENDENT OBSERVER

IO – A few weeks ago, in a forum held in Washington D.C., the United States-Indonesia Society—a well known non-government organization that has worked for decades on improving bilateral relations—hosted a talk for businessman Hashim Djojohadikusumo.  The younger sibling of Prabowo Subianto, Hashim described to an audience of journalists, businessmen and diplomats the policy priorities for his brother’s Gerindra party and how, if Prabowo were elected, his presidency would mark the beginning for a better Indonesia.

Hashim’s delivery and arguments were not only strong, but compelling as well.   Opening with a diatribe on the Jokowi administration’s poor track record on national public health policies, Hashim referred to World Bank statistics on Indonesia’s stunting growth rates, which is one of the highest in the world and a problem for which Jokowi’s health ministry has done little, if anything, to reverse.

Going further, Hashim mentioned Jokowi’s national health insurance program (which the president has often touted as a success) and the fact it is bankrupt with roughly US$1.3 billion in arrears.  Hospitals and doctors have not been reimbursed for five months, pharmacies for over one year.  Many low-income patients, who rely upon the program to access health care, often find themselves in long queues or unable to find a clinic or hospital that will accommodate them.  And critically ill patients, such as those suffering from cancer, have recently discovered their ailments have been delisted from the insurance scheme.

Equally damning was Hashim’s laying out the figures on Indonesia’s substandard educational system and the failure of Jokowi’s education ministry to make improvements.  Citing statistics from the Program for International Student Assessment, which is a comparative study carried out every three years under the auspices of the OECD, Hashim lamented the fact that Indonesia ranks sixty-five out of the seventy-three countries surveyed for their quality of education.  This sadly holds even when making comparisons to lesser- developed countries, such as Vietnam, where rural Vietnamese school children outrank their counterparts in Indonesia’s urban areas.

Hashim also went on the attack on income inequality and poverty issues.  Jokowi often trumpets his cash subsidy programs for the poor. Yet little, Hashim pointed out, has been done to enable disadvantaged Indonesians to climb the socio-economic ladder.  In the meantime, income and wealth inequality remains staggeringly high:  according to the World Bank, out of 193 countries, Indonesia is one of the three worst countries, faring better only after Mozambique and Russia.  And if one thought the 1 percent problem is just an ailment in the U.S.A., Hashim said, then one should consider the staggering fact that four Indonesian families own more wealth than 100 million people in the rest of the country.

Hashim, as with his brother Prabowo, is a generous supporter of environmental and wildlife causes.  He won even more accolades from his Washington audience when revealing Prabowo’s commitment to reverse the degradation of Indonesia’s forests.  Pointing out that eighty-eight million hectares of Indonesia’s forests are degraded, and an additional twenty-four million is classified as extremely degraded, Hashim denounced the Jokowi administration’s failure to allocate sufficient funds for forest protection and reforestation.  The neglect, Hashim said, is undeniable when one considers the World Wildlife Fund budget for its Indonesia operations is three times the Ministry of Forestry’s budget for protection of forests.  Prabowo, he promised, would add multiples to the ministry’s budget and provide greater funding for wildlife protection, as well.

Lastly, Hashim talked about Indonesia’s energy crisis:  studies show that in five years time, the country’s oil reserves will have been completely depleted.  The list of potential crises doesn’t stop with oil, however:  the entire national gas reserve will be depleted in twenty years, and in forty years  time no commercially viable coal will be left.

When one considers the myriad of problems ailing Indonesia—poor health care and education, gross inequality, deforestation and a serious energy crisis—a reasonable question is, where would the money come from?  One way, says Hashim, would be for the government to be tougher on corruption, hence saving enormous amounts of state funds from being pilfered by corrupt government officials. As president, Hashim said, Prabowo would ensure Indonesia’s anti-corruption agency, or KPK, would receive a substantial increase in its budget.  He would also, he said, create incentives for good behavior by hiking government salaries and introducing stiffer penalties for those found guilty of corruption.

Another means of finding enough money for a better Indonesia, says Hashim, would be to improve Indonesia’s tax ratio.  Indonesia’s tax ratio of nine percent, especially compared to its peers in the region, is scandalously low.  India’s ratio is twenty percent, and Taiwan’s is nineteen percent.  Even Zambia, a poor underdeveloped African nation, has a higher tax ratio at sixteen percent.   If Indonesia could approach the tax ratios of Taiwan or, say, Zambia, that would bring an additional US$90-100 billion per year in tax revenues.